For more than 60 years the venerable Stan Marks has been pursuing his passion, racing horses.
"My wife (Grace) used to say all we ever did on the weekend was go to horse races, while other people were going camping," said Stan, 86. "We ran everywhere. I've raced in every place in Alberta that I could run, as well as in Montana, Seattle, a lot in Saskatchewan, Great Falls a lot, and Yakima, Washington." Stan became involved with Thoroughbreds in 1950, but it wasn't until 1958 he ran his first horse in Calgary, Flying Few. Flying Few was by War Result, a sire from England, and the colt ran twice for Stan before he was claimed. Stan did get him back a while later though and ended up selling him to Merle Anderson to run with his chuckwagon outfit.
"In the late 1960s the poster for the Calgary Stampede featured a big sorrel horse as part of a lead team on a chuckwagon . . . that horse was Flying Few," said Stan.
While Stan is a far cry, at 86, from being as old a Noah, some may wonder if there's a link between the two. You see, when Stan was born in late August of 1927, it rained for 28 straight days that summer. Then in 2005 and 2008, the race meet at the RMTC was deluged with far more than its share of rain, all centering close to Stan's birthday. Through much of his working life though Stan has always appreciated rain. He operated a dryland farm at Armada, near Lomond, and ran about 200 head of cattle along the edge of Lake MacGregor. Today, son Garry runs the cattle - and is involved with his own race horses as well. If ever a son was a carbon copy, physically of his father, it is Garry, right down to the suspenders. Stan sold off the main farm when he retired in 2000, moving to the eastern outskirts of Lethbridge.
"I built on an acreage near the Rainbow Riding Stable, and I work harder now than I did when I was farming," he said with a laugh 15 years later.
Retirement doesn't mean Stan left horse racing, quite the contrary. He still owns and/or trains about a dozen Thoroughbreds.
One of the 2005 rain- outs may have been costly - Scheduled to run in a $12,000 Fillies and Mares Stake was Guiltybysuspicion, an Alberta-bred mare.
"This Guiltybysuspicion was probably as good as I've ever had. She's made very close to $100,000 on the bush. That's not bad. She was always in tough and she was always right there.
Another good horse we had was All A Blurr, as good as I've ever had. He ran his 100th race here in Lethbridge for us in 2004. He was destined to be a super horse but he got a virus and he never really did fully recover. I sold him in 2005 to a girl in Grande Prairie." With that sale Stan proved he isn't sentimental about his horses. He treats them well to be sure, but he doesn't put them out to pasture to watch them age when their running days are over. "I want to remember them when they were good, I don't want to see them age and get all humped up and sore," said Stan, the 2004 RMTC trainer of the year. In the spring of 2009, if you eliminated the Quarter horse people from the field, Stan and his friend Phil Wiest would have been tied at the top as leading trainers for the Spring Meet.
With his 55 years in the sport you don't find him dreaming of the Kentucky Derby or the Breeders Cup. For Stan, just to have some hard-running horses is reward enough. "I could still raise a colt that might win the Kentucky Derby, the chances are always there . . . I guess everyone looks for that Cinderella horse. But just to win a big Allowance or Stake race is good enough for me, that's my Derby. I like to go into a place, run my horses, and when I leave have people say, 'holy man, he did pretty well." Stan got into the racing game because he loved horses, and the weekend race meets gave him a way to relax after a hard week on the farm. His love for horses was passed on to son Garry, who trained at Lethbridge and Edmonton.
"You know, when people ask where he learned this horse racing business, he tells them his father sent him to the School of Hard Knocks on the Saskatchewan race tracks." The Marks family also includes daughters, Delores, Darlene, Barb and Cindy, eight grand- children and 10 great-grandchildren. Even with all these grand kids Stan is still up at 6 a.m. each day, tending to his horses, and his acreage.
"I don't know what I'd do if I had to take two days off in a row, or got two days of sleep. I'd be crawling the walls. There's only one bit about horse racing I don't like, and that's the deadlines, like getting to the paddock on time. That makes for a little stress. With retirement it should be a time to do what you want, when you want." Stan starts his racing season in April at Lethbridge and goes through Grand Prairie in the summer and back to Lethbridge for the Fall Meet in September and October. In days past he remembers when some of the Calgary horses would come down to Lethbridge in the Fall and go head-to-head with the local horses - and the locals proved very competitive.
"Their horses were almost worn out and mine were fresh because I'd put them out in the fields to run free and eat grass, and gallop them once or twice a week. I don't work a horse too much. I train much the same as the others now, but you know, since I started doing this training thing right, they don't seem to run as well." Stan just didn't train just for himself, there were owners he enjoyed working with, like Darcy Peterson, Alvin Hendricks, Myrtle and the late Harold Silbernagle, son-in-law Pat Honess and Helen Reynold. Beyond horses, owners, and trainers there are jockeys, and Stan has seen them all. Among the best was Elijah Bourne, now a trainer out of Edmonton who runs against Stan once or twice each year.
"I saw Elije ride five horses for me in one day at Trout Springs (a track just west of Calgary, where RMTC race manager Dot Stein once ran the races) and win on all five. Elije was the best there was at getting a horse to break well from the gate. I've had hard horses that always broke bad; but not with Elije.
"There were a lot of top riders in Lethbridge, Scott Sterr is one of them and Terri Landaker rode a lot of horses for me before her accident. Carl Hebert rode a lot as well. This little Brooke Mellish was a pretty nice rider. I used Norm Jewel a lot and Cliff Miyashiro was my number one rider for a couple of years. He could ride with the best of them.
"I remember Freddie Tobacco too. I went to Red Deer once and he rode an old horse for me, a late entry, from the outside hole. He won it for me. Fred once rode a son of Secretariat, that Ed Prince and I later got, a huge horse called Spy Drone. It hadn't done much until one day Fred was up on him in the mud and he wove his way up through the field to the front." For Stan Marks its people he's met, befriended and worked with who have made this horse racing game the fun it has been. Its really the friends made at the track that keep this jovial octogenarian going, coming back year after year to take part in the sport of kings.
Stan closed the Spring meet at Lethbridge with four victories and nine second-place finishes.
He'll be back with his horses at the RMTC September 5-7 through to October 9-12 for the Fall Meet.